Utah legislators advance effort to overturn Park City’s plastic-bag ban
February 26, 2019
A Utah House of Representatives committee on Monday evening narrowly advanced a bill that would block a municipal government from prohibiting plastic bags, a piece of legislation that could ultimately overturn Park City's ban.
The House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee voted 6-4 to forward H.B. 320 to the full House of Representatives. District 53 Rep. Logan Wilde, a Republican from Croydon, cast a 'Nay' vote. Wilde is the only representative whose district includes a part of Summit County on the committee. Park City is not within District 53.
Rep. Michael McKell, a Republican from Spanish Fork, is the bill's sponsor and wants the state to prohibit local governments from enacting bans on plastic bags. The bill would preempt the City Hall ban regardless of the local law predating the legislation.
The Park City Council in 2017 enacted the ban on razor-thin plastic bags, the first in the state, as part of the municipal government's wide-ranging environmental program. The law prohibits stores of at least 12,000 square feet selling groceries from distributing the bags. Three stores are impacted — Fresh Market, The Market at Park City and Walgreens. City Hall estimates the ban prevents the distribution of 800,000 plastic bags per year in Park City.
Park City officials also say decisions like whether to enact a ban on plastic bags should rest with local governments rather than with the Statehouse. The officials appear to be especially pressing that argument in their opposition to the McKell bill.
Business interests — the grocery and plastics industries — remain concerned about the ban. A similar bill did not advance in the 2018 session of the Legislature. City Hall is concerned the bill this year has a better chance of approval.
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The sponsor during the Monday committee meeting indicated the existing bans like the one in Park City could be allowed to remain intact even if the legislation is approved by the two legislative chambers and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert. The McKell suggestion appeared to be a significant concession, but it did not garner enough support.
There was brief discussion about the possibility of allowing the existing bans to continue, but the committee did not include such a clause in the bill when the vote was taken. There was concern about consistency throughout the state if the existing bans are allowed to remain in effect as other communities are prohibited from enacting similar measures.
Mayor Andy Beerman spoke with McKell on Monday prior to the committee meeting, saying it was a "civil" discussion with the legislator. Staffers from City Hall and the Legislature also attended the Beerman-McKell meeting.
The mayor said McKell outlined an argument in favor of the legislation based on a "principled stance" rather than a "practical one." The sides did not reach a resolution, he said.
"He's proud of the principle," Beerman said.
Beerman added that the legislation has wider ramifications on local officials' ability to govern their communities based on their unique needs.
"That's the fight we're having. It's not about plastic bags," he said.